When I found out that I would be leaving Tanzania in June 2017, I knew I couldn’t just leave my dog Kweli behind.
Kweli was a gift from former students and not “just” a guard dog — she was a pet and my friend.
Taking a pet with you on a flight depends a lot on the size of your pet, as well as your destination. Prior to booking my flights, I did a substantial amount of research. For flights to the U.S., the most-recommended carriers were KLM and Swiss Air. Both carriers have the option of checking a pet as baggage, and both carriers make sure that the pet is well-cared for on the stopover in either Amsterdam or Zurich, respectively. In the end, I chose Swiss, as they had the shortest total flight time to my destination, and the flight was about $300 cheaper for the dates I was traveling.
To book the flights, it is necessary to call the airline office, as you will need to first confirm that there is space for the pet on the individual flight before booking your ticket. Then, after confirming that there is still space and booking your own ticket (it is $20 cheaper to book a ticket online than by booking over the phone, apparently, so I called to confirm, hung up, booked online, and then called back), you will need to give the airline certain details about your pet: weight, crate dimensions, etc. in order to book their space on the flight.
Export / Import Requirements
The necessary export and import requirements differ according to your destination. The U.S. is one of the easiest destinations, as they only require proof of Rabies Vaccination for entry with a dog from Tanzania. Other countries are more complicated, but Pet Care in Masaki makes the process simple, as they have dealt with hundreds of exported pets over the years. If you are considering taking your pet with you at any point in the future, I would definitely recommend getting a microchip when you have the chance, as many countries do require pets to be microchipped for entry. To leave Tanzania, you need a health certificate and export permit, which must be applied for ten days before the flight. The easiest way to do this is to set up an appointment for your pet at Pet Care ten days before the flight, and to pay the 220,000 Tsh for them to file all of the paperwork for you. The vet checks your pet’s health, signs the health certificate, and then files it with the appropriate ministry in order to receive the export permit. When it comes through, Pet Care calls you to come and pick it up, and then you are set to go.
When preparing your pet for the trip, I recommend getting them used to their crate ahead of time. Around a month in advance, I started putting Kweli in her crate during random times: when guests came to the house, while I brushed my teeth, etc. I used a simple command to ask her to go inside the crate, and then always rewarded her for going in, and then made her sit quietly after opening it to let her out.
Just before the flight, it is necessary to prepare the crate for travel. If at all possible, freeze water inside the crate’s bowl, so your pet will have water to drink on the flight (if it is not frozen, it will all splash out while getting to the airport). I didn’t have a refrigerator/freezer prior to flying, so I opted to take a water bottle instead, which I let her drink from prior to putting her in the crate at the airport, and then filled her bowl with after the security check. On the top of the crate, attach a small bag of food for your pet, your pet’s leash, as well as a bag containing your pet’s import/export documents (the export permit and the proof of vaccinations). I also recommend making a copy of those documents to carry with you just in case. Inside the crate, put some kind of absorbent bedding material, and a t-shirt or soft toy that your pet is familiar with (I used an old bath mat/towel and a kanga).
I was extremely stressed in the days leading up to my departure, worrying that Kweli would not make it on the flight, that she would be terrified in the plane, etc. However, when we arrived at the Dar airport, the process was extremely simple. Juggling the large dog crate and all of my baggage was actually the most complicated part. To go through security, it is necessary to remove your pet from the crate so that the crate can be x-rayed (I was glad that I had carried a second leash in addition to the one taped to the top of the crate, so that I didn’t have to mess with taking it on and off for security). Then, after security, once the dog is back inside the crate, checking in is just like with any other flight: personal document check, baggage drop (including your pet), and boarding pass. The staff at the Dar airport were surprisingly friendly towards the dog, and had no problem with handling the pet.
Admittedly, I was still stressed during the flight with my concern for Kweli, and so when I arrived in Zurich, I went to the customer service desk and asked them to confirm her arrival in Zurich. They did so, and also assured me that she was being taken care of. Then, during boarding for my second flight, I was called to the ticket counter, where they informed me that the crate Kweli was traveling in was smaller than their recommendation for a dog of her size, and so they had changed it out for a larger one, and I would need to pick up both crates in the baggage claim area in Chicago.
When I arrived in Chicago, I first collected my bags (or at least the ones that arrived), and then went to the oversize baggage area to collect Kweli. She was very calmly lying in her new crate when I walked over, and didn’t seem stressed or bothered at all. Because of the additional crate, it was necessary for me to hire a porter, but that also was not difficult. Customs was simple: I only needed to show her paperwork (the health certificate and proof of vaccination), and then we were free to go. The Chicago airport has a pet relief area just outside of the arrivals terminal, which we made use of while waiting for my brother to arrive with his pick-up truck to take us home.
Overall, traveling with Kweli from Dar es Salaam to the U.S. was far less difficult than I first imagined. She traveled very well, Swiss Air treated her exceptionally nicely, and there were no complications at any stage.